Brooke Horan Williams: Screen to Stage to Screen

Avatar for Ebiz Editor

Brooke Horan Williams takes a look at some of her favorite silver screen adaptations of stage hits based on movies.

It’s more common than you’d think, Brooke Horan Williams tells us: a classic movie is considered prime material for a stage adaptation, which then inspires a movie version of the musical. This odd, recursive method of producing shows may seem uninspired on the surface level, but as Brooke Horan Williams teaches us, this spiral of inspiration can lead to the best possible versions of a story.

 Brooke Horan Williams begins with perhaps the most famous example of this sort of roundabout inspiration: The Producers. The Producers was originally a Mel Brooks film released in 1967, starring Gene Wilder (best known today for his role as the original Willy Wonka) and Zero Mostel (himself a legitimate broadway star, starring in productions such as Fiddler on the Roof and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum). The film’s plot revolves around a washed-up Broadway producer (Mostel) who attempts to commit fraud with the help of an accountant (Wilder) by producing the worst possible play imaginable, thereby taking advantage of an auditing loophole. Unfortunately, the play becomes a massive hit and classic Mel Brooks style antics ensue. 

As the plot revolved around a Broadway musical already, Brooke Horan Williams points out, this show was a perfect choice to be adapted to the stage. Mel Brooks himself oversaw the stage adaptation and in 2001, The Producers made its Broadway debut. With legendary actors Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick taking over the lead roles, the play was a smash hit and inspired the film adaptation. The movie was released just a few years later in 2005, retained Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick as the lead roles and added Will Ferrel to the cast as well.

Brooke Horan Williams goes on to list Hairspray as another example of this phenomenon. The original movie was released in 1988 by John Waters and follows the story of Tracy Turnblad, played by Riki Lake, as she auditions for a dance show on a local television show and rallies her community against racial segregation. 

The movie was considered successful among fans and critics, but the Broadway show it inspired was arguably even more so. Hairspray debuted on Broadway in 2002, was nominated for 13 Tonys in 2003, and won 8 of them, including one for Best Musical. The stage show, in turn, was adapted to film in 2007. The movie version of the musical stage show added recognizable star power, with a cast that included John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Queen Latifah, Amanda Bynes, and more. The movie also gave Nikki Blonsky her film debut as the main character, Tracy Turnblad.

Brooke Horan Williams gives one final example: Little Shop of Horrors. The original movie, titled The Little Shop of Horrors and released in 1960, was a black-and-white dark comedy that revolves around a man-eating plant. The musical stage show, Little Shop of Horrors, first released in 1982 and inspired the 1986 film, which starred comedy legend Rick Moranis as the main character, See Krelbourne. All three are dark comedies, yet have very different endings, Brooke Horan Williams points out: the original ends with Seymour sacrificing himself to destroy the plant, while the stage show ends with the plant devouring everything—including, in an impressive bit of puppetry, the audience. The 1986 movie has the happiest ending, with Seymour destroying the plant without having to sacrifice himself.

At the end of the day, despite directly inspiring their successors, all these shows are unique in their own way, and deserve a watch from any fan of the arts.